contemporary art / history of art

Artwork of the month / November 2018

Il Primo Universo (The First Universe)
Greta Schödl

Oil and gold leaf on French canvas
Signed on the verso
216 cm x 160 cm


The painting “Il Primo Universo” (The First Universe) by Greta Schödl shows an asymmetrical accumulation of golden dots and lines on a blue irregular ground. Slightly right from the image centre the golden application concentrates, in order to form a circle with a blue pierced uneven field in the middle. In some distance are more golden fields grouped around the inner ring. Between, there are smaller golden dots, which become discontinuous lines, especially in the right image half. Outwards the golden application fray again to little dots. The blue background is formed by lighter and darker blurry blue dots. In total, there is a progression from bright to obscure upwards the painting. This colour gradient appears diaphanous in opposite to the opaque gold leaf. At the same time, the gold leaf doesn’t seem to be impenetrable, since the application is pierced and let the blue ground shine through.

Along with the title, “The First Universe” the beholder could conclude to see a group of stars, perhaps a galaxy. However, the description of pierced lines makes this attribution a little bit unlikely. In addition, outside the oval accumulation are no more dots, which might indicate other stars from far away. Still, one could think of an abstract unknown cluster of stars, circulating around a centre.

Nevertheless, as the artist reveals, it is another universe, not an extra-terrestrial one, but a very earthy. It is an enlarged print of Greta’s breast. Personally, it was the first universe for her children, where they were fed by their mother. More general, it is the first and most important source of mother’s milk for many humans and all the mammals – the fundament to survival – a fount of life.

A glance to the Greek mythology carries us back to space. Already the Greek dealt with the importance of breast milk for babies. The god Zeus had an illegitimate son with the mortal woman Alcmene: Heracles. Zeus placed his son to be nursed by his divine wife Hera during her sleep to make him strong. Heracles suckled so strong that Hera awoke and repelled the child. Her milk splattered across the heavens. Like that the Milky Way was formed. Hence, we are back in the extra-terrestrial space.

“The First Universe” was painted in 1980, a time when Greta experimented a lot with prints from body parts. There are also oeuvres originating from finger and lip prints, for example a book where fingerprints are changed into animals and other things. Like that Greta creates ever new universes. “The First Universe” was part of the double personal exhibition “Tomaso Binga & Greta Schödl: Vocalizing” from 31 May to 7 July 2018 in the Richard Saltoun Gallery in London.


Greta Schödl

Born 1929 in Hollabrunn, Austria Greta studied at the Academy of Applied Art in Vienna (Akademie für Angewandte Kunst Wien, today University of Applied Art). She graduated in 1953 and was honoured with the Academy Price. Immediately, she was successful with her carpets and mosaics and participated in national and international exhibitions, like in the Vienna Secession, the GEDOK in Munich and the Contemporary European Tapestry in Houston, United States.

Since 1959, Greta lives in Bologna, Italy. To devote herself to her family, she suspended her artistic work for seven years. Afterwards, she restarted to create new oeuvres and took part in exhibitions, first in Bologna and soon on national and international level.

Since her childhood, Greta has a special relation with books and scripture. Therefore, it is not surprising that she introduced these elements in her artistic creations. Often she repeats words on different materials like paper, textiles or even tree bark. However, there is no linguistic information, because the artist focusses rather on emotional aspects.

The step from writings to books is relatively small. In consequence, Greta created numerous artist books with collages of different materials where often natural elements like leaves and tree bark are included. Another praxis is the work with body prints, with graphic additions or alienated by enlargement, like the painting “The First Universe”, which is our artwork of the month November 2018. This example underlines, that Greta’s large artistic range is not only related to various materials and techniques, but also huge regarding the dimensions, which are varying from smaller than postcards-size to big canvases and even space-consuming installations.

Despite her advanced age, Greta constantly continues her work. Since a few years, the Richard Saltoun Gallery, London, represents her. They showed her oeuvres in 2016 at the Turin, Italy based art fair Artissima and in 2017 at the paper works focussing WOP Art in Lugano, Switzerland. This year the gallery dedicated her the double personal exhibition “Tomaso Binga & Greta Schödl: Vocalizing” and in 2019, they will take her creations to the Frieze in New York.


Greta Schödl: All my experience enters into my work